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William Francis Waters (1897–1968)

by Melissa Harper

This article was published:

William Francis Waters (1897-1968), public servant and bushwalker, was born on 22 August 1897 at Traralgon, Victoria, only child of Victorian-born parents Francis William Waters, railway employee, and his wife Eva, née Hillard. Educated at country and suburban state schools and at Melbourne High School, Bill joined the Department of Defence on 16 November 1914 as a naval staff clerk. In 1926 he transferred to the Department of Trade and Customs (Customs and Excise from 1956). He served as an examining officer before rising to supervisor (1948), investigation officer (1951) and senior investigation officer (1957). On 21 August 1962 he retired.

While Waters enjoyed moderate success in his working life, he excelled in his leisure pursuits. In 1908 he had joined the Boy Scouts Association. As a youth he took an avid interest in his health and fitness, and aged about 18 he enrolled in a school of physical culture. He represented Victoria at lacrosse (1925) and boxed as an amateur heavyweight. But he most enjoyed the nascent pastime of bushwalking. When living in western Gippsland as a child, he had been inspired by the sight of Mount Baw Baw. Victoria's alpine regions 'exercised a strong fascination' for him and in 1917 he undertook his 'first serious walking trip'—along the Baw Baw tourist track. In 1922 he became a rover scout.

Next year Waters joined the Melbourne Amateur Walking and Touring Club and thereafter devoted enormous energy and enthusiasm to its administration and activities. He was a committee-member (1925-27), secretary (1928-34), chief leader (1934-67) and president (1967-68). On bushwalks he preferred to get off the beaten track and, with a small group of committed members, undertook a number of long-distance hikes through remote wilderness regions. He and his companions were forced to design and make most of their equipment as suitable gear was not then available commercially; Waters introduced the practice of wearing shorts. A member of the committee which had instigated (1928) the club's magazine, the Melbourne Walker, he was a prolific contributor. He wrote articles on his walking trips and keenly researched the history of the areas through which he trekked. In 1947 the club rewarded his dedication with life membership. His enthusiasm for outdoor activity extended to skiing and he tirelessly promoted the sport, particularly its cross-country form.

Committed to the scouting movement, Waters took two extended periods of unpaid leave (1929-30 and 1953-54) to attend international gatherings. In 1930-65 he was headquarters commissioner for rover scouts in Victoria. He made bushwalking and skiing part of the training of rovers and helped to introduce thousands of young people to these two forms of recreation. According to his friend Harry Stephenson, to be trained by Waters 'really meant trained'. For his efforts he was awarded (1961) the Silver Wolf, the highest scouting honour. He was chairman of the Kinglake National Park committee of management, a member of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria and a Freemason; just before his death he was elected to the council of the National Parks Association. Waters never married. He died on 8 October 1968 at Fitzroy and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Stephenson, W. F. 'Bill' Waters (Melb, 1982)
  • A. D. Budge, No End to Walking (Melb, 1992)
  • Melbourne Walker, 31, 1960, p 76, 40, 1969, p 39.

Citation details

Melissa Harper, 'Waters, William Francis (1897–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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